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Sin Eater

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For the crime of stealing bread, fourteen-year-old May receives a life sentence: she must become a Sin Eater—a shunned woman, brutally marked, whose fate is to hear the final confessions of the dying, eat ritual foods symbolizing their sins as a funeral rite, and thereby shoulder their transgressions to grant their souls access to heaven.

Orphaned and friendless, apprenticed to an older Sin Eater who cannot speak to her, May must make her way in a dangerous and cruel world she barely understands. When a deer heart appears on the coffin of a royal governess who did not confess to the dreadful sin it represents, the older Sin Eater refuses to eat it. She is taken to prison, tortured, and killed. To avenge her death, May must find out who placed the deer heart on the coffin and why.

The Sin Eater walks among us, unseen, unheard
Sins of our flesh become sins of Hers
Following Her to the grave, unseen, unheard
The Sin Eater Walks Among Us.

The Handmaid’s Tale meets Alice in Wonderland in this gripping and imaginative historical novel about a shunned orphan girl in 16th-century England who is ensnared in a deadly royal plot and must turn her subjugation into her power.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published March 31, 2020

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About the author

Megan Campisi

4 books321 followers
Megan Campisi is a playwright, novelist and teacher. Her plays have performed in China, France and the United States. She has been a forest ranger, sous chef in Paris and a physical theater specialist around the world. Originally from California, she attended Yale University and the L'École International de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,760 reviews
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,064 reviews38.1k followers
April 24, 2021
Nope! It’s not fair to compare this book with the other novels and talking about the resemblances with Handmaid’s Tale, Wolf’s Creek or any other epic stories. Sin Eater is dark, unique, original, well-crafted, visionary, horrifying, twisty, surprising tale, a very well written, somehow quirky, absurd, complex fantasy!

For its uniqueness and eerie, creepy, dark, intense atmosphere and impeccable development, I’m giving my four solid stars!

This is story of a fourteen years old girl May sentenced to be an apprentice of a sin eater: eating the fests of sin left the coffins as she was expecting a standard punishment like being whipped or burned at a stake!

By eating foods which symbolize the sins, she helps the soul’s transgressions to the heaven. I loved the way of her naming the people with creative names in her nonstop thinking mind. Even though her weird traits, it is easy to connect with her character and follow up her journey!

And now May takes her first steps to the weird world, living in her own purgatory till one day a deer heart is found at the coffin. And May’s mentor rejects to eat it because it doesn’t represent any sin which results her brutal death.

Now May is alone, determined to find who is responsible from the killing of her mentor by searching the person put the deer heart and she eventually finds herself at the rabbit hole of lies, manipulations, and deceptions! And of course that ending is harsh slapping on your face coming out of nowhere! It rocks your world. (After seeing Parasite’s well deserved winning, I haven’t been shocked for so long!)

Reading this book is dazzling, complicated, devious but also exciting experience for me. I enjoyed settling of Elizabethan England and different writing technique keeps your attention alive from the beginning till the last page.

One of the mind crushing, soul shaking and different readings of the year!
Special thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for sharing this impressive book’s ARC with me in exchange my honest review.

Profile Image for Meredith (Slowly Catching Up).
770 reviews12.1k followers
March 3, 2020

Sin Eater is an original historical novel about women who are to bear society’s burdens by being relegated to “sin eaters.” Sin eaters are women who hear confessions of the dying and eat food that symbolically stands for their sins. By doing so, they lift the burden of the dying and are destined to serve as the companion to the ultimate sinner, Eve, in hell.

14-year-old May, an orphan, is punished for stealing a loaf of bread by being forced into a life of servitude by serving as a sin eater. Forced to wear a collar and branded with the letter S on her tongue, May is now both feared and shunned by the society in which she lives. Called to people’s death beds, she hears their sins and eats their burden allowing for God to forgive the sinner. May now has to worry about taking on others' sins and potentially being cast to hell to serve as a handmaiden to Eve. When she and another sin eater are summoned to the Royal Court, they hear the confessions of a former governess to the Virgin Queen, Bethany, drawing May into a mystery of secrets and lies and murder in the Royal Court.

Through Sin Eater, Campisi explores societal, class, and gender differences in the 16th century. The tone is gloomy and tense. May's character is strong and compelling. She tells the reader of her experiences from prisoner to sin eater. Her life is filled with difficulties and tragedies. While she takes comfort with the society’s unmentionables, her loneliness and fear shine through the pages. With that being said, I wish I got to see more of the society in which May lived. We get a little glimpse of her world, but I would have loved more, especially of the Royal Court. I wanted to be transported, but I was only about half-way there.

I will say that this was a fascinating read, but I enjoyed the premise more than I liked reading it. It's more of a character study than mystery. However, I am appreciative of the original storyline, and I look forward to Megan Campisi's next book and seeing what other unique tales she has to share!

3.5 stars

Thank you to Isabel @Atria Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,284 reviews119k followers
April 15, 2021
Salt for pride. Mustard seed for lies. Barley for curses. There are grapes too, laid red and bursting across the pinewood coffin—one grape split with a ruby seed poking through the skin like a sliver through flesh. There’s crow’s meat stirred with plums and a homemade loaf, small and shaped like a bobbin…There are other foods too, but not many. My mother had few sins.
In an alternate Elizabethan England, fourteen-year-old May Owens, newly orphaned with the passing of her father, (her mother’s family not being an option, having already shown themselves to be an abusive, criminal lot) is nabbed for stealing bread, tossed into the clink, and done dirt by being fitted with a literal collar, brass, with a coordinated tattoo on her tongue, and sentenced, cursed really, to be a Sin Eater. It may be a job, but it comes with the added weight of making you a social outcast, a literal untouchable. This despite performing what is considered the crucial public service of symbolically taking on the sins of the deceased by eating particular foods by their coffins so the sinners could speed their way to heaven, unburdened. She finds her way to the only Sin Eater she knows, in the worst part of town, the woman who had sat by her mother to take on her sins as she neared death. The woman takes her in as an apprentice. As the author notes at the beginning of the book,
Sin eaters existed in parts of Britain until roughly a century ago. How many and who they were, apart from social pariahs, is almost entirely lost. What we know is that they ate a piece of bread beside people’s coffins to absolve their sins in a folk ritual with Christian resonances.
Megan Campisi - image from Gold No Trade

Campisi has enlarged and enlivened the menu somewhat, listing thirty-nine sins, from Adultery to Wrath, and offers a corresponding food for each. Guilty of Fault Finding? Then eel pie is called for. Heresy? Honey cake. Tale Bearing? Stewed gurnards. Campisi then uses some of the required foods as chapter heads, signaling the crimes being considered in each.
I spent a lot of time reading through Tudor cookbooks! In selecting pairings of sins and foods, I grouped some by types of sins (for example, sins related to envy all involve cream) and some by onomatopoeia (to me, the sound of “gristle” fits its sin, wrath). I also intended for some pairings to feel whimsical. I wanted to recreate the experience one has when hearing a nursery rhyme from hundreds of years ago: there are elements that make sense and others that simply don’t because their meaning has been lost over time. - from the Reading the Past interview
There are several things going on here. First, is a Dickensian tale of an orphaned girl being thrown into a corrupt adult world, having to fend for herself, and trying to create her own family, trying to make a home for herself, and a place for herself in the world. It is also a feminist coming of age, as May begins to realize that she now has power she had not realized before, can exert it to help herself and others, and why shouldn’t she be able to have as much control over her life as the men do? And surely there is a message to the fact that there are no male sin eaters, so females alone carry the spiritual burden of the crimes of others. And, it is a also mystery.

There is trouble afoot in the royal realm, as people seem to be dropping off at a rather alarming rate in the palace. Even the wealthy want a sin eater near the end. When May’s mentor realizes that the foods that are being laid out for her to eat (Eatings) do not match the sins that the newly departed had recently confessed to her (Recitations), in a particularly dark way, she understands that something dastardly is going on, refuses to eat the proffered repast, and is soon jailed. May takes on the business. Being an intrepid soul with an urge to do right, she feels compelled to get to the bottom of it all. She is also interested to learn how her mentor came to become a sin eater.

It is a time of religious turmoil, in which monarchs have been changing the national religion with each succession, so there is plenty of intrigue to go around, loyalties to be discovered, secret alliances to be unearthed, family connections to be revealed. Being the lowest of the low, May becomes socially invisible and thus finds herself largely unnoticed wandering halls where private conversations somehow reach her ears.

Campisi is a theater expert and puts her knowledge to good use, from the forms of traveling entertainment to the materials used in theatrical face paint, to the colors and styles worn in the period. Her portrayals of actors and stage performers and performances is great fun, particularly when the players are called on to improvise. May also acquires a bit of a life as the house in which she is living seems to keep attracting more and more people, of a theatrical bent, with tales to tell and knowledge to impart. That May makes do with a minimum of conversation is a tribute to Campisi’s particular expertise at using physical action instead of dialogue tell a story. Sin eaters are only allowed to speak when performing their rituals, so tracking May’s story presented some challenges.

She tosses in a dash of magic, as someone is using witchcraft to secure unscrupulous ends. But the real magic is in her look at what life might have been like for those at the lowest end of the social ladder. Theater people are not much above sin eaters in this world in how highly they are regarded. But life is particularly harsh for the young, poor, uneducated, unconnected, illiterate, and female. While May’s story is harrowing, her strength, native intelligence, and determination are admirable. Sin Eater gives us a sense of a time and a place not too far from the actually historical, a relatable heroine, and a twisty whodunit. It is enough to feast on. Bon appétit.

You gonna finish that?

Review posted – April 17, 2020

Publication date
----------April 7, 2020 - hardcover
----------April 13, 2021 - trade paperback

Atria graciously provided an ARE in return for a tasty palatable review. No whipped syllabub will be called for here. Thanks, ID.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Instagram and FB pages

Campisi is an actress, playright, teacher of theater arts, and co-founder of the Gold No Trade theater company. She has also worked as a chef in Paris, a forest ranger in the Northwest, and a motion capture artist.

Sin Eater was named an Indie next pick for April 2020

There is a downloadable Book Club Kit on her site

-----Authors on the Air Radio Megan Campisi joins Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE! -Tamara Thorn and Alistair Cross
-----Chicago Review of Books - Coming of Age in “Sin Eater” by Ryan Asmussen
-----Reading the Past - Review and interview: Megan Campisi's Sin Eater, a dark, folklore-infused mystery in an alternate Elizabethan England by Sarah Johnson

Item of Interest
-----CrimeReads - The Strange, Sordid World of Elizabethan-Era True Crime by the author
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,500 reviews24.5k followers
April 10, 2020
Megan Campisi writes a fascinatingly original and imaginative piece of alternative historical fiction set in a barely disguised sixteenth century England under the reign and royal court of Queen Elizabeth I. In this darkly moody, intense, creepy, and atmospheric novel, the actual existence of real sin eaters of the period is taken to another level. Only women can be sin eaters, a religious allusion to the biblical figure of Eve, her eating of the forbidden apple, the original sin. Sin eaters eat and take on the sins of others confessed on their death beds, allowing them to enter the kingdom of heaven, whilst the sin eater carries their burden of sin silently to their graves. The young and hungry 14 year old orphan, May Owen, is imprisoned for stealing some bread, finding herself branded with a S on her tongue, and a heavy collar placed around her neck. She is condemned to the cursed ostracised life of a sin eater instead, serving as an apprentice to an older sin eater to become acquainted with her new role.

Various foods representing the specific sins confessed to, are placed on the coffin for the sin eater to eat, but when a deer heart appears on a coffin which bears no resemblance to what had been confessed, May's mentor refuses to eat it, which results in her being accused of treason and to her death. In a tautly plotted, multilayered, and complex story, a lonely May reflects on the nature of the life open to her and the limitations placed on it. Despite all the dangers, the determined May searches for the truth, she is going to need all all her wits to get to the bottom of the conspiracy, mystery and murder at the heart of the royal court. Campisi's bleak storytelling has a vibrancy that hooked my interest, and although the pacing was uneven and aspects of the story were over emphasised, I found this riveting reading with its historical details.

The highlights of this novel for me was the wonderful creation of the character of May, her life riddled with difficulties and obstacles, and her development, along with the fear, superstitions, and the social norms and attitudes of the period. This is a terrific read, of sin eaters and their lives, royal court intrigue, betrayal, gender, class and identity. Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for an ARC.
Profile Image for Beata.
697 reviews1,056 followers
April 26, 2020
Like many other readers, I was surprised to have learnt that Sin Eaters really existed that that they continued well into the beginning of the 20th century.
The story of a teenage orphaned girl who for a petty crime is forced to become a sin eater moved me deeply. Solitude and social isolation resulting from perfoming traditional ritual make her a protagonist I fully related to. The silence which is imposed upon her and the fact that she is accepted only by those rejected by the society make her an outsider, however, being inteligent and observant, May finds her ways to survive, to adapt and to become strong eventually.
A historical fiction that will stay with me for a long, long time.
October 20, 2022

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SIN EATER is another one of those books that suffers from poor comparisons. Alice in Wonderland meets the Handmaid's Tale?! The Name of the Rose meets Wolf Hall?! I am seriously side-eying all of the authors of those blurbs right now because comparisons like that 1) fail to adequately describe what the book is about, 2) do it an injustice by shaping the book as something it is not, and 3) are just such bad comparisons that I literally cannot even.

SIN EATER is a fantasy novel-- not historical fiction. It takes place in an AU version of Elizabethan England that is somewhat similar but with all different names and customs. May is a young woman who is about to be sentenced for a crime, but when sentencing is meted out, she doesn't get the usual death or torture. No, instead she is sentenced to be a "sin eater," a person who eats the feasts left on the coffins of the dead, with each food representing a crime that person committed in life.

Sin Eaters are basically the dregs of humanity, on par with grotesques and lepers. As if their forced ostracism isn't enough, they're also forced to take a vow of silence that is nulled only when they are listing out the feasts of the sins and offering the dying absolution. May learns all of this at the knee of the older, more established Sin Eater: a woman who has been eating sins for so long that they have made her fat.

Everything changes when the Sin Eaters are called to the palace to eat the sins of a dying handmaid of the queen. At the feast, which is public, there is an item on the coffin that does not represent any of the sins the handmaid recounted. But who would have reason to lie about the sins of the dead? And why? The answers to this lead May down a rabbit hole of intrigue, lies, and deception amidst the royal court-- lies deep enough that people are willing to commit murder to ensure they stay hidden.

I do think the premise of the Sin Eater is a cool one. Other books have done this with mixed success (I'm thinking specifically of the YA fantasy novel, THE SIN EATER'S DAUGHTER). Setting the book in an AU fantasy version of England makes sense, I guess, although the world isn't developed nearly as much as it should be, and even though there are feminist themes hinted at in the book, none of these are really carried to fruition either, so to compare this book to THE HANDMAID'S TALE-- a richly imagined world filled with lengthy criticism on the way women are treated-- seems unfair.

If you read this book, try to read it outside of the framework of the blurbs. It's a dark fantasy novel that doesn't have magic; instead, it's got a caste system and a means of purging sin that uses impoverished and marginalized women as the vessels. Maybe it could have been handled with more finesse than it was, but the writing is good and the idea was interesting, and for a debut, this isn't bad.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

3.5 stars
Profile Image for jessica.
2,475 reviews29.6k followers
July 19, 2020
this story is fascinating - the unique concept, the vague airs of mystery, the intriguing characters, and the simple yet captivating writing all produce a very engaging reading experience.

for me, the highlight of this story is the subject. i was vaguely aware of the idea of sin eaters prior, but i love how this story shows them in such a complex light. i also enjoy how this story takes a turn towards mystery. the moral dilemma of a sin eater eating a food representative of a sin that was not confessed is so interesting to me. who put the food there? did they really commit the sin/crime? why didnt they confess to be absolved before death? its so interesting.

my only minor critique would be the short length of the novel. the pacing is quick and there is a good resolution overall, but i feel like there could have been so much more with regard to the world building, and i think the shortness of the story prevents this. i would have loved to learn more about the sin eaters, gotten more of their history, and been introduced to more sin eaters as characters.

but overall, this is an entirely absorbing and read-worthy novel.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Paige.
152 reviews283 followers
February 7, 2020
"Sins of our flesh become sins of hers through the Eating, praise be."
After committing a crime, 14-year-old May is condemned to be a sin eater. She begins to follow the elder sin eater to learn her new job. While learning, a deer heart is placed at someone's Eating although the dead didn't confess to the sin that matches that food. May decides to discover the truth of the murder mystery, but she finds secrets, witchcraft, and lies along the way and her world is quickly and quietly turned upside down. "My soul carries the sins of this town. I'll carry them with me until I die."

Throughout the story, May examines her new purpose and evaluates her freedoms. She internally ponders the meaning of her identity: does the role of a sin eater define her?
"I wish you could show folk your insides the way you show your face. Then they'd know I'm not wicked at all."
I really enjoyed taking this journey with May. She was a very unique character, and it was both bleak and fun to be inside of her head.

Overall Thoughts: The 16th century setting was phenomenal. It was eerie, dark, and I was easily transported there. The ending was fantastic. I thought I had the mystery all figured out, but I was wrong! Of course, there are a couple of things you might figure out along the way, but the final twist at the end totally caught me off guard. The last two sentences were very emotional and I teared up. The character is unique and her burden as a sin-eater is interesting to follow. I love how May names the people that she encounters; she is a quirky character and I loved her. My only complaint is that in the middle it started to get repetitive with May going to someone's house who was dying, listening to their sins, and then eating the foods to carry on their sins for them. This made the pacing in the middle get a bit slow.

There are several old English words, so you might consider reading this on a Kindle to translate the words that are unfamiliar.

I recommend it to historical fiction lovers who don't mind imaginative elements. May was awesome and I miss her already. 4.5 stars
This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley and Edelweiss for an honest review. Opinions are my own.

More about this:
Wikipedia--What is a sin eater?

Sin eaters and the lost sacraments

Sin eaters eat your sins
Profile Image for Ceecee.
1,854 reviews1,368 followers
April 7, 2020
3.5 rounded up to 4 stars.

The sin eater walks among us. I studied history and taught it, so how did I not know about sin eaters?? It’s the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Bethany in the book) and May Owens is caught stealing bread. Her punishment is to be branded a sin eater and a collar placed around her neck. May is now marked and shunned by society. She will be summoned by a family who has a dying relative. She has to eat a ritual meal after hearing a death bed confession, allocating foods to sins. These are placed on the coffin and once eaten May takes on the sins of the dead, she absorbs them and therefore the deceased’s soul can enter heaven. This ritual is linked to Eve and she is cursed like Eve and she will bear the sins in silence until her own death. However, this story goes beyond sixteenth century rituals although they are central to the story. May goes to the Queen’s court where she hears a deathbed confession where her observations uncover a conspiracy symbolised by the appearance of a deers heart on a coffin. May knows that the dead person did not confess to that sin. So who has placed the deers heart there and why? The story is told by May herself in a style reminiscent of the century.

There is much to like and praise in this book. The historical detail is fantastic, the writing is colourful and lively with occasional touches of humour. I love the folklore and the superstition which captures the period of time effectively and the style feels authentic. It’s a dark and intriguing story and I like the twist at the end.

However, it is complicated and I think readers will need to have some understanding of the history to appreciate some of the plot and the characters in it. It does get repetitive towards the middle too which causes your interest to fall away somewhat.

However, overall because it’s so original and it looks at a little known historical area that is absolutely fascinating I would recommend it to fans of historical fiction or anyone who finds the concept intriguing.

Thank you to NetGalley and Pan McMillan
Profile Image for Jaidee .
559 reviews1,019 followers
March 24, 2022
1 "juvenile, histrionic, poorly written and developed" stars !!

Thank you to Netgalley, Atria Books and the author for an e-copy. I am providing my honest review.
This was released April 2020.

Ok I just can't go on - I got to 66 percent but I just can't go on or I will burst from frustration.

The one star is for the very interesting premise of a sin eater in Elizabethan times and the beautiful book cover.

This book is an absolute maudlin mess!!

-characters are so poorly developed that you just don't give a shit !
-so much contrived alterations to history that to some might be cutesy clever but to me lacked imagination and substance
-the prose is amateurish, sloppy, inconsistent and rather juvenile (even for a YA book...which I'm not sure it is supposed to be)
-the plot is choppy with one more colorful and ridiculous character added after another....like watching a drag queen show where both you and the performers are so sickly drunk that neither of you can lipsync

To add insult to injury you are singing "I will survive" by Gloria Gaynor and by reading this book you know you won't !

Profile Image for Debra .
2,124 reviews34.9k followers
February 10, 2020
3.5 Stars

"The Sin Eater walks among us, unseen, unheard
Sins of our flesh become sins of Hers
Following Her to the grave, unseen, unheard
The Sin Eater Walks Among Us."

A strong round of applause for Megan Campisi for creating a unique and original book set in sixteenth century England.

Recently orphaned, fourteen-year-old May has been jailed and convicted for stealing bread. Her sentence - to be a Sin Eater. A "what?" you ask.... A sin eater, shunned, an S tattooed on her tongue, unseen until she is seen, not to speak unless hearing the sins of the dying. She is a cast out, who provides a service to those who are dying. She will listen to final confessions and for those sins she will eat certain foods so that they may be granted access to heaven.

It's a dark and dreary world. May's only solace is meeting another sin eater, who takes her in and shows her the ropes, then one day, May is once again alone. Her mentor has been jailed and executed because she refuses to eat a deer heart which has been left on the deceased coffin. Her reasons, the dead woman did confess to the sin which the heart represents. Left in a court where women are dying and deer hearts are appearing on their coffins, May knows something is not right at court. Someone out there is killing others and May is in danger but she can't/wont/refuses to stop investigating her mentor’s death.

This was an incredibly unique tale and Campisi did a fabulous job transporting me to sixteenth century England. May is a likable character who I couldn't help but feel for. She is an orphan trying to survive in the beginning of the book but through the course of becoming an outcast, suffering loneliness and having no one acknowledge her, she finds a strength within herself. She is a young teen in world full of royal intrigue, witchcraft, lies, manipulations and betrayals. The setting is dark and gloomy.

I enjoyed the contrast of how she was shunned, not looked at, not touched, considered cursed, until she was needed. Then they came calling, invited her into their homes, told her their sins and feed her for absolution.

The book started off strong for me but did lag a little in the middle and slightly towards the end, but then there are some "aha" moments, some reveals and a solid ending. I really enjoy book which not only entertain but teach me. I had no idea that sin eaters where real and sin eating is viewed as a ritual. You can learn more as I did by reading about sin eaters on Wikipedia.

Dark, original, unique, gloomy, and entertaining. It stands on its own and doesn't need to be compared to other books.

Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for *TUDOR^QUEEN* .
408 reviews427 followers
May 24, 2020
3.5 rounded up to 4 Stars

This book came on my radar via a NetGalley email inviting me to read the book. Otherwise, I think I would have overlooked this. I just found the email. It spoke of a "topsy turvy version of Elizabethan England with characters reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, Mary Seymour and others." Now that I am re-reading this email, it helps answer some of my mild confusion while reading this book. I am a British monarchy buff, so initially I was wondering who Queen Bethany and Queen Maris were. I kind of figured out that they meant Tudor queens (and half-sisters) Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary, but thought perhaps the main character Meg Owens spoke a different dialect of English.

For some reason I had been putting off reading this book, but looking for something different I finally picked it up and was surprised to find myself seriously drawn in. I connected with the sadness and extreme loneliness of Meg Owens. She's all alone in her house, parents both deceased at the age of 14. She gets thrown in jail for stealing a loaf of bread. Instead of receiving a death sentence, she's branded a Sin Eater. A heavy link chain with an "S" pendant gets locked around her neck by the court recorder, and her tongue gets tattooed with an "S". In shock and confusion she gets let out onto the street where passerby give her a wide berth, recognizing the trappings of a Sin Eater. If she gets too close people bless themselves for protection or might even be compelled to throw stones at her. She doesn't know where to go. When she attempts to go back to her abandoned home, the neighbors make it clear she's not wanted. The branding of a Sin Eater is all that it takes to get shunned. By following the smell of dung that signifies the wrong side of town, she stumbles upon the cottage of the elder Sin Eater.

What is a Sin Eater? When someone is going to die, the Sin Eater gets summoned by a messenger. Under normal conditions, the Sin Eater never speaks, but only at the ritual of hearing someone's sins. The person that is dying counts off each sin, which is matched by a kind of food. Those particular food items are brought to the Sin Eater to eat, which signifies the taking on of those sins so that the deceased is cleansed of sin. If the person dies before the Sin Eater can hear the confession, there is a standard array of food to be consumed by the Sin Eater. Meg follows her elder Sin Eater around on foot and learns the ropes. At first she is exhausted from malnutrition. However, one of the few benefits of this "job" is that she will never go hungry, and soon she is getting extra skin on those bones.

I was enraptured with this story, ironically enough, until a Sin Eating job came up at the castle. It was here that Meg encountered The Queen and a rather unsavory cast of characters with strange nicknames such as The Painted Pig, Willow Tree, Mush Face, Fair Hair, and Black Fingers. In the parallel universe of The Tudor court, you can match up easily at least one of these to the true historical figure, but I found these names quite confusing to follow. They are names Meg came up with to easily identify these court members. Unfortunately, these names persisted to the end of the book and only caused a disconnect for me. There was also a pivotal event where a deer's heart was left on top of a coffin in the castle, which led to a mystery to unravel. This mystery was way too dragged out for me, and involved all these court members I just mentioned.

In summation, I truly enjoyed the simplicity and inner strength of Meg's character, but felt like the story went a bit too far off the rails during the court intrigue part of the tale. At the beginning of the story I felt like I was on my way to a 5 Star read, but felt a bit detatched towards the end.

Thank you to the publisher Atria Books who provided an advance reader copy via NetGalley.
Profile Image for ELLIAS (elliasreads).
478 reviews37.2k followers
August 29, 2020
In a nutshell: This book is about a girl who eats food representing the sins committed in a person’s life before they die so they meet their maker with good grades and clear skin.

In the grand scheme of all things:OK SO WHAT FOOD REPRESENTS THE SIN OF THIS BOOK BEING: slightly (very) boring. No great payoff. Figured out twist very early on in the book. It was lie; I’ve been deceived. Oh calamityI WOULD LIKE TO KNOW TYVM!!!

Profile Image for Amy Imogene Reads.
880 reviews760 followers
June 21, 2022
This alternative historical fiction novel centered on a "sin eater" in a version of Elizabethan England was dark, lyrical, and unforgettable.

Concept: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★
Sense of place: ★★★★

May Owens is caught stealing a piece of bread in the streets of an alternative version of London. It's the time of the Virgin Queen. Taken to be sentenced, May is shocked to receive a one-of-a-kind punishment: she's been declared a sin eater.

A sin eater is always a woman. She's branded by a collar displaying an "S," and branded with a black ink "S" on her tongue. She's not allowed to speak, she's not allowed to be touched, she's not allowed to be looked at, and her entire life is plagued by the limitations of her new position—she "eats" the sins of the dying.

As you can tell, the job isn't great.

May's life as a sin eater in this alternative London was fascinating, heartbreaking, and poignantly human. This is a lingering read. I really disagree with the comparisons claiming this tale is like The Handmaid's Tale and Alice in Wonderland—neither of those comparisons resonated with me and they really miss the connections to historical England and the lyricism of this novel. This is about the grimy underbelly of London, the seedy witchcraft of a prescience era, and the life of a pariah among and separate from the people.

Also, there are no fantastical elements to this novel whatsoever, so fantasy fans take note. I still loved it, but would not call it a fantasy even in the loosest sense.

Thank you to Atria Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Liz.
1,914 reviews2,350 followers
March 19, 2020
This is a truly unique historical fiction. May is caught stealing a loaf of bread and is sentenced to become a Sin Eater. “It’s always women who eat sins, since it was Eve who first ate a sin: the Forbidden Fruit.” Now a pariah, no one dares look at her or speak to her. She’s not allowed to speak outside of the Recitation. Hers is a life of loneliness. It’s a very sad, dark story.
Campisi takes the Elizabethan period and renders it anew. The language takes some getting used to. The names have been changed. Even old fairy tales and rhymes are switched around. But she has created such a complete world I had no trouble envisioning it. And once I got used to the turns of phrase, the pages just flew by.
Initially, May is apprenticed to an older sin eater. When they are called to the royal court, the older woman refuses to eat a food associated with a sin not confessed - the sin of murder. She is accused of treason for refusing to obey a royal command. May then tries to determine what’s the truth behind the murder mystery. This isn’t a murder mystery in the traditional sense but I was as perplexed as May and I didn’t figure anything out before she did.
I loved seeing May grow. At age 14, she really had the weight of the world placed on her. Yet, she took the curse put upon her and made it a strength. She’s a wonderful character and one my heart went out to.
My thanks to Atria Books for a paper ARC.
Profile Image for Jasmine from How Useful It Is.
1,214 reviews335 followers
April 13, 2020
This book is a fantastic read! What an interesting idea for a story. Sin Eater is awesome! I love following May's thoughts. She has a cool matter-of-fact attitude. When she got caught stealing she thought to eat the bread she stole because why not go to jail full than hungry. I like her thoughts about her mom and the way the author worded the sentence about the worms. It flows well but clever in a way. I like the modified kids rhymes to fit the story. Would have been great if readers were told of May's age, but I'm guessing she's a teen.

This book is told in the first person point of view following May Owens as she talks about sin eater. Now, May is running fast away with the warm bread held tight until the baker's son caught her. There are 20 girls in jail with May for various crimes. When the girls got sentenced a punishment, they left and May remained in jail along with a new batch of girls caught with various crimes. The story slowly revealed how May is an orphan without a family. At last her punishment came and it's unexpected. Her duties in her punishment came to a puzzle when she knew something was a lie but she couldn't voice out. The lie she knew leads to murder and mystery at the Queen's castle. Each chapter heading with a type of food. There is a list of sins as it stands for a type of food at the beginning of the book.

Sin Eater is very well written and a fast paced read! At first I'm not used to the shock of words such as whores and bastard children. I have never read anything like this, which is a good thing because this story is an original idea. I loved it and couldn't read fast enough. I loved the historical aspects of the book due to the fancy way the characters speak. Definitely fascinating how a person confess all of his/her sins before he/she dies. I like that the main character is clever despite having no education. I don't normally look up vocabularies but this book has a great many words I haven't heard of, like cunny, jakes, vagabond, scullion, etc. I like learning these new words. May's living situation is interesting. I like the mystery, suspense, and problem solving. This story is highly addicting and I highly recommend everyone to read it!

Jasmine at www.howusefulitis.wordpress.com for more details

Thank you Atria Books for inviting me to host a blog tour! I appreciate the opportunity to read and review. Please be assured that my opinions are honest.
Profile Image for Navessa.
Author 10 books7,416 followers
June 24, 2020

Every now and then I come across a book that is totally different from anything else I’ve ever read. This phenomenon is becoming rare, and that’s largely due to the fact that I’ve read a lot of books in my 35 years.

Megan Campisi’s Sin Eater is the first book to make that list in several years, and because of that, I know that this story will stay with me for a long time.

A lot of the media buzz surrounding this book’s release drew comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale, and I have to disagree. Yes, there are some similarities in the way that women are treated as little more than chattel at times, but this book is much easier to read than Atwood’s iconic story.

That’s not to say that this is in any way an easy book, or that it’s simple. Far from it. Campisi’s debut is both a brutal coming of age and an empowering tale of self-discovery. This is simply an easier book to read because, throughout it, I never gave up hope that it could end well for the main character, whereas in The Handmaid’s Tale my reading progress was dogged from page to page by heavy-hitting dread that everything would end very, very badly.

In this alternate Elizabethan history, Sin Eaters are women tasked with absorbing the sins of others, absolving them of their crimes before death and taking their sins unto themselves. They do this by eating a spread of food laid out over the coffins of the dead, each dish symbolizing one misdeed or another. For example, deer heart is for murder, and when one shows up on the coffin of a noblewoman without her having confessed to that crime, the mystery kicks off.

What follows is an engrossing, riveting story that was so addicting, I read it in a single sitting. One of the things that makes this book so compulsive is the tension in the story. There is very little downtime. It feels like the MC is running from one near-catastrophe to another, which leaves the reader desperate to keep flipping the pages.

Is the queen involved in the conspiracy? What about the man angling to be her lover? I had endless questions throughout, and I loved the way that Campisi dropped the MC into this new role as a Sin Eater and had her claw the mystery apart with such single-minded determination.

I highly recommend this for anyone wanting something different.

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Profile Image for Michael || TheNeverendingTBR.
426 reviews139 followers
September 19, 2021
This debut novel is based around the historical concept of sin eating - the idea that a person close to death could call on a ‘Sin Eater’ to spiritually take on their sins.

The dying person would do this by confessing to the Sin Eater, who would then consume a ritual meal consisting of a different type of food to represent each transgression.

This is a story about a young girl sentenced to live as a Sin Eater for the rest of her life.

This one was very dark, written well and had a very clever plot but I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.

Still gets 3 stars though! 💫
Profile Image for Fran (apologies...way behind).
619 reviews563 followers
February 10, 2020
A reinvented/alternate Sixteenth Century English Court had sentenced fourteen year old May Owens to life as an outcast. For the crime of stealing bread, May was given a life sentence: A Sin Eater...a social pariah...brutally marked with an "S" etched on her tongue...a shunned woman forced to wear a heavy brass collar with a hanging "S" pendant...cannot be touched or spoken to...cannot speak except during recitations or eatings.

What is a Sin Eater? "[Her]...fate is to hear the final confessions of the dying, eat ritual foods symbolizing their sins as a funeral rite...". "The sin eater bears the sins of all folk in silence to her grave. She alone may never confess and be absolved...". May finds herself apprenticed to an older Sin Eater."I am not to talk. Even to her." They dwell in Dungsbrook, "no place is as unfortunate". Daily messengers from all walks of life request the services of the Sin Eater for a "Recitation" of sins of the dying or an "Eating" of the ritual foods. "When the foods is et, your sins will be mine...", says the Sin Eater.

An Eating is conducted for Corliss, governess to Queen Bethany, daughter of King Harold II. Folk attend "the Eating" to bear witness. The elder Sin Eater stops eating, refusing to eat the deer heart placed atop Corliss's coffin.. The deer heart is a lie. No confession has been recited to warrant this ritual food. Disobeying a direct order, the Sin Eater is sentenced to death for treason.

May Owens is determined to discover who placed the deer heart on the coffin. She must avenge the death of her mentor,"Ruth". May is now the sole Sin Eater attending recitations and eatings. She lives on the fringes of society. "I wish [I] could show folk [my] insides...then they'd know I'm not wicked at all...folk would know I am goodly...".

"Sin Eater" by Megan Campisi is an imaginative, creative work of historical/ dystopian fiction. One cannot help rooting for May. An excellent read I highly recommend.

Thank you Atria Books and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "Sin Eater".
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
741 reviews1,099 followers
July 18, 2020
This started out engagingly enough but for some reason I lost interest about 50 pages in. I continued reading, hoping I'd get re-invested, but it never happened. 

3 stars for the quality of writing though my enjoyment was only 2. I wonder if perhaps I've grown away from novels set in medieval times or if I just wasn't in the right mood to enjoy this novel.
Profile Image for Krystal.
1,294 reviews338 followers
March 25, 2020
Not gonna lie, this was a disappointment for me.

I think my problem was my preconceived notions. 'Sin-eating' to me sounded a heck of a lot like fantasy, so that's what I expected. Turns out this was once an actual thing that once happened?! So that's entirely on me but it really coloured my experience of this novel.

For those who have not yet encountered the concept of sin eating, it's basically a medieval spiritual practice, where someone eats symbolic food to absolve a person of their sins before they die. Not fantasy. Just a person eating food. Speaking of food, check out the egg on my face.

So the plot basically involves a girl who becomes a sin eater, then proceeds to tell dying people what food she will eat for them, and then revisit when they die to eat said foods. Only, in the course of her Reciting and Eating, she discovers a Dastardly Plot which of course she must unravel because she's the only one privy to everyone's deepest darkest secrets.

It may not come as a surprise that a lot of people die in this book.

The whole embellished concept of sin eating is what drives this novel, so I got a bit bored with all of the talking about food and the eating of food. The sins were fun but rarely expanded on. Whereas the lists of foods were endless (there's literally a list at the front so you know what foods are for what sins, but then the story goes ahead and tells you anyway). It's like the author took a sketch of a scene from history that was only a faint outline and has darkened the lines then gone to town with markers and colouring pencils. It's a richly detailed slice of this world so I suspect historical fiction lovers are going to enjoy that immensely.

Next you've got the fact that sin eaters are considered outcasts, so that's what really tugs the heart strings here (and is maybe also a reason I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped - I hate reading about suffering). I mean, she's doing these religious nutters a pretty solid favour by taking all their sins as her own, but they shun her and treat her terribly. I found it quite heartbreaking because even when she finds a slice of kindness here and there, the overwhelming sense is that things are just not destined to go well for this girl.

The story is gloomy and slow, but also coarse and vulgar. The language was so beautiful at times but then it would shock me with it's bluntness and uncouth references. Also the adjective 'fugging' had me feeling mighty awkward. Was this an actual term once upon a time or was the author trying to swear in a novel manner? It's likely the former but it felt like the latter which contributed to the writing sitting poorly for me. Overall, I found that the writing contrasted too harshly - it was like the story was a queen and every now and then a beggar would come and kick her in the shins and then move off again. You kinda bask in this beautiful language then suddenly there's a reference to someone's 'cunny' and you're wrinkling your nose in displeasure.

There is of course an actual story to keep things moving along, and it involves a mystery surrounding the royal family and all their sins. I enjoyed it, but it unravelled too slow at the start for me and then too fast at the end. The characters beyond the main protagonist weren't fleshed out quite to my liking, and there's more focus on her and her fellow outcasts than those involved in the Plot. So while the mystery kept me reading, it wasn't anything too intriguing and felt more like an excuse to show off the main character. Not necessarily a bad thing, just not really for me. I am a lover of action, that's for sure.

The vivid details of this one is what will draw readers in, but the mystery lovers will likely be disappointed by the pace. The concept of the sin eater and the religious/spiritual practice itself is rather fascinating, so will appeal to lovers of historical fiction and those with a taste for the unusual. And sinners will get a kick out of deciding what foods might have been eaten on their behalf, back in the day.

Stewed gurnards, anyone?
Profile Image for Carolyn.
2,091 reviews588 followers
March 13, 2020
The Unseen is now seen. The Unheard is now heard. The sins of your flesh become the sins of mine to be borne to my grave in silence. Speak.

So speaks the Sin Eater when she attends the bedside of a dying person to hear them confess their sins. By eating specific foods attributed to different sins (eg. raisins for adultery, dried plum for incest, mustard seeds for lying) the Sin Eater absorbs the sins herself and absolves the dying.

When fourteen year old May Owens is caught stealing bread she is sentenced to become a sin eater and sent to live with an older sin eater to learn her role. She is still learning which foods must be be prepared for the different sins when the Sin Eaters are summoned to the castle to attend one of the Queen's courtiers. After the woman dies and they return to eat the food for each of the woman's sins they are surprised to see an extra food item on the table next to the coffin - a dear's heart. May doesn't know what sin this represents but her teacher does and refuses to eat it. When the older woman is later thrown into the dungeons and tortured to death, May is left alone to be the Sin Eater for the village and uncover a strange plot at the castle.

This was an interesting novel with such an unusual character as the main figure. Sin Eaters did exist in 18th and 19th century Europe but generally the role was a simpler one with the eating of bread or a special funeral cake symbolising the removal of the deceased's sins. In this novel, set in the 16th century in alternative version of the court of Queen Elizabeth I (virgin queen Bethany and her sister Maris), the idea has been extended into a more exotic range of foods representing specific sins. May is branded as a Sin Eater with a heavy brass collar round her neck and the letter S branded on her tongue. She is reviled by all and not allowed to speak except when asking the dying to list their sins and pronouncing the food required.

The author has created a darkly atmospheric historical period peopled by actors, lepers, Jewish musicians and the members of the Royal court, making an excellent backdrop to the mystery at the heart of the novel. May's deprivation and treatment was heartbreaking, especially that she could no longer touch or speak to anyone making her so alone. For me the book fell a little flat in the middle but picked up pace towards the end as the mystery unfolded. I enjoyed May's way of naming people by what she saw (since she couldn't ask their names) and her inventive way of solving problems. However, I did find the repetitive recitation of her traumatic capture and incarceration that led to her becoming a Sin Eater throughout the book very annoying.

With thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia and Netgalley for a digital copy to read
Profile Image for Annette.
733 reviews314 followers
March 6, 2020
“Sin eaters existed in parts of Britain until roughly a century ago. (…) They ate a piece of bread beside people’s coffins to absolve their sins in a folk ritual with Christian resonances.”

16th century England. Fourteen year old May Owens is arrested for stealing bread. Her penalty is to be a sin eater. With all eyes averting her, she walks to a house of an older Sin Eater. After her first Recitation, it sinks in that she is to hear just folk’s sins, not their joys or blessings.

The first 15% which concentrates on May is phenomenal. Once she is with the older Sin Eater and learns the Recitation, it seems as the story keeps going in circles. It doesn’t progress.

When they go to the castle for Recitation, it feels as the story is about to pick up again when May’s thoughts colored with her humor come out, but then the story becomes descriptive, with slow moving dialogue.

A deer’s heart is placed on a coffin. The older Sin Eater refuses to eat it. She is taken to prison, tortured and killed. Now, May is on a mission to find out who did it and why.

Once May is on her own, there are parts when I thought I was getting back into the story. But I struggled with reconnecting with her.

Overall, this story wasn’t grasping for me and I’m disappointed, because this book started with such a strong, colorful character. That despite this dark story, she made it very interesting. But only at the beginning, at least for me.

Loved her mind and her analogies. She is such a loveable person with an honest heart. At moments, it’s very touching how lonely she feels and how she’d love to talk to someone and has no one. At times, it’s hard not to laugh at the names she tags people with: Painted Pig, Mush Face, Black Fingers, Willow Tree. In a whole sentence, sometimes it becomes a comedy.

The writing is certainly of a talented writer. So I hope the story will be more grasping for others than it was for me.

Source: ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Elle.
584 reviews1,248 followers
April 8, 2020
This is one of those books where the more I read about it the more confused I got. The Handmaid's Tale meets Alice in Wonderland? Eating ritual foods? What about a deer’s heart? So if she’s unseen and unheard, who prepares the sins food? And if she stole a loaf of bread, would Jean Valjean be a Sin Eater too? I decided to just dive in.

With the exception of the Jean Valjean one, all of my previous questions were answered. It’s absolutely insane that this is historical fiction. Megan Campisi conveniently provides a list of foods and their corresponding sins at the beginning of the book. The job of Sin Eater is not highly coveted and in May’s case is clearly a punishment, but some of that list man... The foods are a mix of delicious sounding (honey cakes) and basically inedible (eel pie), but they seem pretty haphazardly assigned. Except for ones like rape and murder, where they make you eat a raw (animal) body part, I don’t see any food that makes much sense paired with their sin.

But that’s probably part of what drew Campisi to this particular sect of historical Christianity. Similar to the nonsensical superstitions in The Mercies, people don’t need to have a sound reasoning to victimize one another. They just need a heaping amount of fear and some institutional power to point them towards a suitable scapegoat. I was once again both astonished and not at all surprised how quickly a community can turn on its own members with the slightest provocation.

“I can’t be cursed. I am a curse.”

Sin Eater is a highly localized story that’s greatest strength is in the main character, May. Yes the time period and heightened paranoia it produces is interesting and well-done, but it’s May that will hold the reader’s attention. Without her I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been too keen to finish this novel, as I found a lot of the ‘eating’ scenes pretty gnarly. Nonetheless, I was often unable to tear myself away from May’s journey from a lonely & hungry teenager to a self-actualized, shameless member of the damned.

*Thanks to Atria Books & Goodreads for an advance copy!
Profile Image for Olivia-Savannah .
643 reviews453 followers
September 29, 2020
I really didn’t know anything about the concept of sin eaters before, so this was a learning process for me as I was reading. I definitely felt for both of the sin eaters we met in this book. I wished I could have been in the book to show them some of the love and kindness that they needed and deserved.

The writing style for this book was perfect and suited the atmosphere of the book so much. I thought it was so good for getting the feel of the setting across. I’m not entirely sure how to explain it, but the writing was just what you need for a historical fiction novel.

It was an interesting take on the historical fiction elements. To some degree it is based on the royal history of Britain, but it is an alternate history. It mixed some events and people from different times in the monarchy. It was done intentionally, and it made the book unique. I quite liked how some elements of it felt familiar, but some so different

The plot was centred around a royal conspiracy. I liked how the conspiracy scenes were complimented with our main character learning more about her own past and history. The plot line for the conspiracy wasn’t entirely unpredictable if you’ve read enough of history to know how these stories often go. And one plot line strand felt a bit rushed at the end. That said, I did like it a lot and it intrigued me from beginning to end.

I wouldn’t say this was the most fast paced read, but it was one that I like to call slow magic. It moves forwards and draws me into the story steadily. I also really enjoyed the altered nursery rhymes and fairytales adapted for sin eater lore.

Lastly, while this does have a central plot line and such, I liked the moments it took to show us humans at their best and worst, and what she learned about people through learning of and reciting their sins, and what she learned of herself by trying on different ‘versions’ of herself. In some ways, it read like a coming of age in that manner.

This review and others can be found on Olivia's Catastrophe: https://oliviascatastrophe.com/2020/0...
Profile Image for Kalyn Nicholson.
Author 3 books9,474 followers
November 5, 2020
When I began this story, I had no idea what I was about to encounter, so the entire book was a mystery as it unfolded. I loved that the heroine was an average, everyday underdog and how the storyline brushed up against themes like poverty, public shame, religious righteousness, self-acceptance, and making peace with what feels like a curse to turn it into a superpower. The storyline includes multiple complex female characters entrenched in a historical time when women were meant to be powerless, meek, disregarded, or have their fates controlled by men. The fact that it's laced with so much history only makes it that much more of an interesting read.
The author uses engrossing, crude descriptions that rarely miss the mark on creating a raw and perturbing setting that fits perfectly with the sobering humanness of many of the book's moments.
**SPOILER** Disregarding the fact that I'm a hopeless romantic and was secretly holding out that my favourite pairing might find each other in the end, I tip my hat to the author for ending the story in a realistic way for May(the main character), however bittersweet.
Profile Image for TXGAL1.
243 reviews27 followers
March 23, 2020
Megan Campisi's new novel, SIN EATER, chose a very interesting topic for her historical fiction subject. I was familiar with this topic and delighted when I won an ARC giveaway from the author and Atria Books.

A young maid, May Owens, takes to stealing when she becomes all alone and destitute. Unfortunately for her, May's theft of bread results in being given to the Makermen to become a new "sin-eater"--a life sentence. A sin-eater is a social outcast, looked upon and avoided in much the same way as a leper.

As a sin-eater, May loses all identity and individuality. It is accepted within the village that when one is dying or dead, the sin-eater will be summoned to hear that person's sins and placed upon the sin-eater's own soul so that the sinner's soul is free to ascend to Heaven. Once the sins are heard, the sin-eater must eat the foods, representative of each sin, at the coffin.

At a royal sin eating, something is not right with the foods on the sinner's coffin. May is determined to find out why the list of foods given to prepare for the ritual are wrong and she tries to solve the mystery.

The layout of the chapters is different--each chapter is named for a ritualistic food to the corresponding sin within the chapter. A list at the front of the book denotes "diverse sins both large and small and their according foods". I liked this method.

I really enjoy historical fiction, but for me, this story was a bit dry. With a more work it could possibly be a bestseller. The ending also left me wishing there was more. Maybe that was the point. With a stark subject matter perhaps the writing was meant to leave the reader with wanting more, like the sin-eater.

Profile Image for Susan's Reviews.
1,038 reviews462 followers
February 11, 2020
My thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As I read this dark tale, it brought to mind a "Twilight Zone-type" TV episode I had watched in my youth about sin eaters: i.e, people who "ate" the sins of the deceased so that the dearly departed could pass on to heaven.
The idea that you can buy yourself out of Hell or the Final Reckoning after death is certainly not a new one. These practices continue to exist today. Just about every religion has some ritual that will speed a soul to its final resting place. We can still, to this day, pay for masses for the souls of our dearly departed so that they may be released from purgatory and cleansed of their sins. All these fear-based conventions or traditions fed (and still feast) off the general inexperience ("ignorance" is too harsh and loaded) and superstition of the general population. As I have already said, despite the widespread advancement of education, similar "sin eater" practices persist to this day in many cultures or religions.

In this story, young May Owens is sentenced for her paltry crimes to become a sin eater. Her poverty and desperation have inadvertently condemned her to becoming a social pariah: she is now contaminated by other peoples' sins.

This author writes very well - although there are times where I felt I was "plodding along". In her preface, the author describes her story as being a fairy tale or fantasy, but the events described are often too gruesome to fall into that tame category. This novel reminded me of why I stopped reading historical fiction: the plight of women in the days of old was abysmal. We still have a long way to go, and change has not been universal, but this story underlines many of the key factors that continue to take away our power and our voice. These types of stories always make me so thankful to be living in this day and age!

I'm going to rate this a 3.5 out of 5. This novel had great potential. I am actually looking forward to reading future works by this author - she certainly has what it takes to write a decent novel.
Profile Image for Mel (Epic Reading).
882 reviews272 followers
July 20, 2020
3.5 stars. Some great lines and moments; but the mystery plot was convoluted and I felt like I had no chance to guess the answer. Additionally I cannot figure out how this relates, at all, to Alice in Wonderland (as per the blurb)? There is no 'other world', no 'falling', or any bizarre creatures. There is a queen, and a clear hierarchical society; but nothing that would have ever made me think of Alice in Wonderland. All that said it wasn't a bad book; but Sin Eater didn't feel quite complete to me.

Food and Mood
The best part of Sin Eater is its overall disturbing and creepy themes. Right from the first chapter we are introduced to what a Sin Eater is, and our lead gal becomes one. As a Sin Eater she meets with people near death or their families post death and eats specific foods depending on their sins (so that they can move into death free of sin). Some of these foods are no big deal like nuts, seeds, etc. And others are fairly disturbing, including hearts of many animals that symbolize certain types of murder. The Sin Eater walks around town and no one wants anything to do with her (of course the Sin Eater is always a woman...), yet they appreciate her upon death. A great irony that the thing they hate is their ultimate salvation.

It takes about 100 pages for real plot (outside surviving) to start to emerge. Sadly this plot is where the book goes downhill. It's convoluted, confusing, and ultimately I didn't feel like I had a single chance to guess the outcome. I wasn't shocked or amazed at the reveal of our mystery in the end. Instead I was annoyed that, as the reader, I was never given enough information to unravel the story myself. This generally means that the reader wasn't a part of the considerations the author made when writing the book. A huge mistake, obviously, as the reader is an interactive part of the plot and should matter the most. I want to feel a part of the events, emotions, and outcomes; in Sin Eater I felt like I was barely along for the ride.

Conundrums and Morals
All that said, there are some absolutely wonderful lines and thoughts or predicaments to consider in Sin Eater. Campisi has given us a Margaret Atwood dystopian set-up that allows us to consider many aspects of society and the types of decisions people are forced to make. Perhaps the most important being that of the 'privilege' of being Sin Eater. You will be hated and shunned by the community; but never ever starve. As much of the town is starving to death; food is a luxury to many and so being Sin Eater does ensure you will have enough to eat. You may not like what you are eating or the way it is presented; but alas beggars can't be chooser's I suppose...
Religion or a belief system certainly plays a part in the choices our lead gal and others make. As they believe in a deity of sorts and the idea of Sin. For our heroine this means that she is stuck in a rock and hard place. Often she is found to be making a choice between doing what god wants her to (given the set-up belief system) and what she needs to do in order to stay alive. The sad part being that it never occurs to her that her belief system is corrupt; or that people around her are lying. Her innocence as Sin Eater is vastly contrasted by the situations a Sin Eater is bound to find themselves in. This is all very clever and fits in well with the overall darkness of the setting.
"Mayhap freedom is choosing for yourself. Even if the choices are piss-poor."

I want to say that I loved this; and in ways I did. I adore the concept, the setting and the characters. And sometimes that's enough; but in this case the plot was in the way of so many parts of the story and with it's overly complicated reveal I just felt like I wasn't really 'in' the story the way I wanted to be. I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading this; but I'm not sure that I would recommend it. Likely I would comment on it if asked but that's about as far as I might go to ever highlight it again.
I will say however that I am excited to read more from Campisi. Certainly she has the types of dark thoughts and ideas that parallel my own and she's not afraid to put her characters in unwinnable situations. Campisi needs some help with setting a plot barrier that not only makes sense but isn't too complicated for the reader. If that improvement is made I believe she could be a writer to rival some of the great YA/teen dark fantasy fiction writers.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
Profile Image for Ari.
731 reviews171 followers
April 7, 2020
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Thank you NetGalley and Atria Books for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.

Fascinated by sin eaters since I came across them in literature years back, this book was not a disappointment. Do not expect a “fantasy” book that boasts of stark and obvious magic, wild creatures and epic worlds. Rather, go into it expecting to get lost in the life of a young girl, forced to become a woman, living a solitary and dark path that shuns her from everyone around her for the crime of—ultimately, we find out—being born.

Set in an alternate version akin to the England of Elizabeth I, the “virgin queen,” we follow our lead, May, after she is sentenced into a sin eater with the responsibilities that follow: hearing the confessions of the dying, eating the sins of the dead, ridding them of these sins so that they may enter the afterlife cleansed, until she herself dies while anyone that she encounters shies away from her in fear and revulsion. And as she learns her new trade and goes from deathbed to deathbed, she happens to arrive at one in the reigning home of the queen. Here, she learns of a mystery that deals in murder and lies ans has been eliminating some near the queen herself.

The story has a slow pace that little by little reveals this mystery as well as how every character is connected. It's compulsive to follow, and May has such a unique and endearing voice despite how dreadful her life is. Regardless of how many times she falls—sometimes, quite literally—she has the spirit to rise above again and seek out the truth behind every lie that is placed before her, even at the risk of her own possible death.

Megan Campisi's writing is lovely. She does such a good job of taking the reader into the old-world setting of this novel and make you feel as if you are there alongside the cast. You feel every hopeless, dark, depressing instant that our characters are living through in a world that is, for the most part, quite dreary, where none are safe regardless of caste. Not only is the atmosphere right on point, but the language is so well used and so original to the type of story that we are reading.

To read Sin Eater is to take a step into the life of one and live out the experience.
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